Offbeat: Status Update

Cover art for this episode provided by Dana Elizabeth Gerber-Margie from  Bello Collective .

Cover art for this episode provided by Dana Elizabeth Gerber-Margie from Bello Collective.

Caly McMorrow is an interactive art and sound artist based in St. Paul Minnesota. Immediately after the 2016 presidential election she participated in social media catharsis by covering a well referenced Leonard Cohen song and sharing it for those who it may benefit. In this episode she talks about the post and her continued efforts to unify and connect people together through the complications of life and art.

To see photos of the piece Status Update visit: http://www.calymcmorrow.com/status-update/

Music in this episode by Caly McMorrow is from her album All of This is Temporary and can be found here: http://www.calymcmorrow.com/music/

Tape Extracts:

Caly McMorrow: So when I learned piano, it was very much classical and I didn't really play popular music growing up. And so when I sit down and play, I often just play - I joke not joke that I got good enough at piano to play Beethoven sonatas badly. 

But, interactive installation art...means making for people to interact with. So, there's a lot about museum culture that's look and don't touch or you're the audience and I'm a performer and so I'm the creator and you're the consumer. And the thing I like about interactive installation art is that that line is blurred or goes away entirely. So, creating experiences or environments that an audience is invited to participate with and the purpose of the art work isn't really realized unless they do that. 

No, no. It was, actually the line in the song, in the chorus, one of them is forget your perfect offering. And so I thought, well this is not perfect and here you go anyway.

You know, everybody was quoting this line from Anthem. I didn't really know it very well and I went and found it and listened to it and read the lyrics and it just one of those things where; oh man, this really captures what I'm feeling right now. And it's kind of prescient because he's gone.

I like having something that's prepared, but still has that random thing in it as well. But, having that safety too I felt like putting this recording up took a lot of that away and so it was a scary thing for me to do actually.

It was a link that a friend of mine...and this was like  Tuesday, Wednesday morning when I couldn't sleep and I was up at like four in the morning. I kind of wanted to put Facebook down, but at the same time it was this...I knew that other people were awake and posting and going through the same thing so I wanted to sleep but I didn't want to put it down because I felt connected to these people that way. 

And a friend of mine said, you should Google Amanda Palmer reading Goodnight Moon,and I hadn't seen her do it. And there's just a bunch of videos when really terrible things have happened in the world where she would say a lot of bad stuff is going on right now, but I've got a baby and I've got Goodnight Moon and I'm gonna read Goodnight Moon and there is something about these simple comforting things, especially as somebody who that was my favorite bedtime book as a little kid. That was just really cathartic to watch and kind of the same thing, this imperfect spur of the moment thing that she did; I think maybe to comfort herself and hopefully comfort other people. And it did, for me, so I thought OK, maybe if I do this thing. It's kind of crappy, and the music nerd in me is AAAH, there's parallel fifths and I missed that note and all whatever.  But, maybe people don't care a much as I do.  

Garrett Tiedemann: So, I guess the first thing we should probably do is what did you actually do?

Caly: What did I actually do?

Garrett: Yes.

Caly: I decided to make a video of a Leonard Cohen cover, kind of to help process feelings about the election, feelings about so many awesome creative people dying this year. 

Garrett: So, it's a performance a  Leonard Cohen song. What was the Leonard Cohen song?

Caly: Anthem.

Garrett: OK. Why Anthem?

Caly: Kind of a lot of reasons. I was thinking about why I did it because it was a really spur of the moment thing and...After he died...It affected a lot of art friends and the thing that people kept posting was the refrain from that song which is: there's a crack in everything, that's where the light gets in. And it occurred to me that I didn't really know that song very well. And I went to find it. 

So, I listened to it and then I actually tried to find covers of it that kind of spoke to me, maybe even a little more than his version, and there really weren't any. So, I found the chords and wrote it out and played it a couple times and then I just decided to put it online. It was, you know, a crappy sloppy cold rainy day and I decided to work from home, from my job, and I like playing piano when nobody's around.  And no one was around and so I woke up wanting to do that because I was kind of the mood of the day. 

Ok, I'll do this thing and then I'll go. 

Most of the music that I make is electronic and has a lot of layers and has a lot of production behind it. And I also, I'm an introvert, I kind of dislike playing live and especially singing in front of people makes me feel really vulnerable. But, it feels like everyone is feeling really vulnerable. So, it was kind of like, well, if I share this maybe it will help somebody.

Garrett: Well, and you told me, you hadn't posted music in a while, like you hadn't exercised that or at least released that to people for a while. 

Caly: Yeah I really hadn't. The last time I played a show was July and just, in general, I make less music than other kinds of artwork lately, but it's still a big part of who I am artistically. 

This one that's actually in front of us on table... 

Garrett: That you set fire to

Caly: That I set fire to accidentally. Yeah. This has almost completely just been a project for me to learn how to do stuff. And it's an interactive twister board. There's panels that light up that have pressure sensors in them and as you play the game they light up, so it's kind of a play on a disco floor. They light up and each one has a sound associated with it. So, it's a remix - you remix audio based on where you're stepping on the board. And then I have multiple sets of sound loops.

The biggest piece that I did called is Status Update. And it was a spiral of vintage light bulbs and at the center of that was an antique desk with a candle stick phone. The phone would ring every once in a while so the idea was for audience participants to walk into that spiral and pick up the phone and there was a prompt and people could record thoughts or answers to questions and the installation would collect those recordings and then play them back. Every light bulb had a speaker attached to it and it would replay what they recorded back. And then two speakers at the entrance to the spiral played a collage of any of the recordings that past participants had left. So, the longer the installation was up the more it collected and hopefully the more interesting it got through the life of it.

Last Thursday (in Fragments) - "No photography. No video."

LT Episode 3.jpg

"We must expect great innovations to transform the entire technique of the arts, thereby affecting artistic invention itself and perhaps even bringing about an amazing change in our very notion of art."

Tape Extracts:

Don Chambers (from show recording):  For whom the phenomenon was supposed to have been presented to itself, had been caught cheating time and again. I believe in a hereafter and no greater blessing could be bestowed upon me than the opportunity once again to speak with my sainted mother who awaits me with open arms to press me to her heart in welcome. Just as she did when I entered this mundane sphere.  

Garrett Tiedemann: I find myself asking this a lot because it's part of the main thing that I've been thinking about, looking at all this stuff, but is that film out anywhere or did you strictly make it to be shown that night.

Don Chambers: I strictly made it to be shown that. 

Don Chambers (from show recording): There is one thing I'm going to ask for cooperation with and that's, a little later in the show, I'll remind you again, a little later in the show we're going to need complete silence and complete darkness. And therefore I'm going to ask you to turn your cell phones off, put em' in your pocket, put em' in your - not now, but a little later; you can still check your twitter account or whatever for the next thirty minutes or so, but at some point we're going to ask you not to leave the room for a brief period of time. 

Garrett: It's one thing to do performance, whether it be  music or spoken word. And then it's one thing to kind of combine. It's insanely complicated to put it all together. 

Don: You should have told me that before we started.

Garrett: Yeah I know. What drove you to go for it all? 

Don: I've never seen a show like that. I've never seen a show that could put all that together and I kind of just wanted to see if I could make it happen. You know, I think one of the takeaways from this is we probably needed about four people behind the scenes making this all happen if you wanted to do it on a less discombobulated, less less mistakes level. But, the fact that most of the time it was John and I doing all the heavy lifting meant that there was this random thing that fed through all of it.

There was definitely random mistakes that happened in every single one, of course. But, the reason I wanted to do it in the first place is because I hadn't seen anything like that. I like a lot of different things. I just thought, why aren't why are shows. For one thing most rock shows are for bands basically doing the same thing or three bands and they're basically doing the same thing for the evening and you like one you don't like the other whatever, you like all three of them. 

But, why not make a...I wanted to make a contained thing that started at a certain time and ended at a certain time. That's another big thing about Athens is our shows here really start at 10 or 11 and they end at 2:00 in the morning.

Now that has its has its own built in. There is a theater to that. But it's, but it's a long drawn out theater that doesn't really like. I'm older now, I kind of want things I want to go in and get something really good and then get the hell out of there. And that's what I was trying to build. 

Doing it this way, the audience never knew what was going to happen next.  And I really like that aspect of it.  Of course, the flipside of that was sometimes I didn't know what was going to happen next.

[from a recording of the show - John Barner is introduced to read An Halloween Poem to Delight My Younger Friends by Leonard Cohen]

Fewer and fewer moments that happened that you can't say I had this wonderful experience. Here's a video of it. And, to me it's not nearly as sexy not nearly as fun as just experience something and being able to talk about it. And. And. The only thing the person can experience from it is your enthusiasm or your wonder at having been a part of it. And. I'm much more interested in that. You know, I like going to shows where they have no photography no video signs on the walls because I want everybody to be present. I want to be present and in the moment of the thing happening.

John Barner (from show recording) reading An Halloween Poem to Delight My Younger Friends by Leonard Cohen:

Impassive frogs, skins stretched taut,
grey with late October,
the houses down my street
crouched, unaware of each other.

Unaware of a significant wind
and mad children igniting heaps of rattling leaves
and the desperate cry of desperate birds.

Dry, stuffed, squatting frogs.

I don’t know where the children got the birds.
Certainly, there are few around my house. Oh,
there is the occasional sparrow or robin or wren,
but these were big birds.
There were several turns of parcel twine about
each bird to secure its wings and feet. It was
that particularly hard variety of twine that can’t
be pulled apart but requires a knife or scissors
to be cut.
I was so lost in the ritual that I’m not sure if
it was seven or eight they burnt.

(“The effluvia of festering bodies was so great
that even the Mongols avoided such places and
named them Moubaligh, City of Woe.”)

Soon they grew tired of the dance
and removed the crepe-paper costumes
and said prayers and made laments.

It was a quarter-to-nine
when one bright youngster
incited the group to burn the frogs,
which they did at nine.

(Now that I think about it, the birds
must have been pigeons.)

If one of Temujin’s warriors
trapped a deer to eat,
it was forbidden
to slit its throat.
The beast must be bound
and the beast’s chest opened
and the heart removed
by the hunter’s hand.